Nouvelle Calédonie – New Caledonia

The Rough French Island on the Pacific

A Brief Exploration into New Caledonia History:

1774 James Cook, en route to New Zealand on board his ship Resolution, discovered a large island he named ”New Caledonia” in homage to Scotland. He dropped anchor in the Bay of Balade on the North East Coast. The ship’s log describes the first encounter with Melanesian inhabitants, whose ancestors migrated to the area two or three thousand years ago.
1853, under the rule of Napoleon III, the island was officially declared French by Admiral Febvrier-Despointes. At the time, the population was estimated at 50,000 Melanesians and a few hundred Europeans. At about the same time, the discovery of large mineral resources and subsequent mining of copper, cobalt and nickel were at the origin of the New Caledonian economy.
1894, Governor Feillet’s decree on immigration to the then penal colony incited migrants from Indonesia and Java. Most of these migrants worked on the newly opened mines, and settled in the country, hence the extraordinary multicultural diversity of New Caledonia.
The Second World War. WWII was a turning point in the history of the island. From 1943, one million Americans were posted at some point in New Caledonia. The GIs brought abundance and consumerism and as a consequence New Caledonia entered the twentieth century.
Over the years… The dialogue between the different communities has evolved, and, after a difficult period, the ”Matignon Accords” was signed by the MP for New Caledonia, Jacques Lafleur, Jean-Marie Tjibaou and the then French Prime Minister. Since then, New Caledonia has seen exceptional economic growth.
1998 The ”Nouméa Accords” which provide for a greater autonomy in New Caledonia, were ratified by the referendum which was held on November 8th, 1998.

Where is New Caledonia?

New Caledonia is the third largest island in the Pacific Region after Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. It is located in southern Melanesia, at a latitude of 19° – 23° south and at a longitude of 158° – 172° east.
The island is situated about 1,500 km from Australia, 1,700 km from New Zealand, 5,000 km from Tahiti, 7,000 km from Japan, 10,000 km from the West Coast of the USA and 20,000 km from France.

The Mainland

The mainland is the richest area of New Caledonia and where most people live. It is divided lengthwise by a range of mountains (Chaîne Centrale), the highest points of which are ”Mount Panié” in the north (1,629 m) and ”Mount Humboldt” in the south (1,618 m). Various species of trees can be found in these mountains.
This unusual relief, very much like a backbone, divides the Mainland into 2 very different areas:
* The East Coast, humid and open to the trade winds is a fertile, exotic land with lush tropical vegetation, green valleys, beautiful waterfalls, rivers, … and authentic Melanesian huts along the roads.
* The West Coast, a drier, temperate zone. There are fewer coconut trees but ”niaouli” trees grow by the thousands and the endemic wildlife is rich. It is ”cattle country,” shaped by people who live at the pace of their cattle. There is an abundance of beautiful beaches too.
Unlike its volcanic neighbors, New Caledonia is a fragment of an ancient continent, which drifted away some 250 million years ago. Its flora and fauna evolved in isolation, and are now quite unique: 3500 recorded species of plants, three quarters of which occur only here; 4300 species of land animals, 1000 species of fish, 6500 species of marine invertebrates. Five hundred kilometers long, fifty kilometers wide, New Caledonia offers an endless variety of landscapes, from some of the best white sand beaches in the Pacific to spectacular mountain retreats.
Surrounded by a 1,600 km long coral reef, New Caledonia also boasts the largest lagoon in the world. The reef can be as close as a few kilometers from the coast in some places and as far as 65 km in others – with an average depth of 40 m.
The Territory of New Caledonia consists of the Mainland, the Isle of Pines to the south of the Mainland, the Loyalty Islands to the east of the Mainland (Maré, Lifou, Tiga and Ouvéa), the Belep Archipelago in the north west and numerous islands and islets: Huon & Surprise, Chesterfield, Walpole, Beautemps-Beaupré, Astrolabe, and the Bellona reef. The total surface is 19,000 sq km (16,372 sq km for the Mainland alone, which is 400 km long).

New Caledonia is the world’s largest producer of nickel after Canada and the USA, and has about one-quarter of the world’s known deposits; this generates 90% of the country’s export revenue. There are also deposits of cobalt, iron, manganese, lead and zinc. The inhabitants of New Caledonia are a mix of Kanaks (45%)(Melanesians) & the French-descended settlers (Caldoches). Plus immigrants from China, Vietnam, Wallis & Futuna (other French islands), Indonesia, etc…

Tourist Tips –

If you read the “brochures” & “leaflets”, or visit the links on Internet, you will believe there are many tourists visiting New Caledonia. The reality is different, in fact not too many tourists visit the place; – Few come from Europe, the trip is too long & the air fare too expensive. Most of the tourists come from Japan, New Zealand & Australia (around two hours air trip) from the Airports of Auckland & Brisbane.
The majority, after arrival, escape the capital Nouméa or the rest of the big island (which is a pity) & go directly to the “Isle des Pins” (The Isle of Pines) a paradise island just 20 minutes, air trip from Nouméa, 2h15 by ferry or 1 hour by helicopter.
Well, I don’t think you need to go that far just to visit a small island for the beauty of it. My recommendation is instead to visit the big island mainland (full of great landscapes and interesting places) and then relax on the Isle of Pines, (You will need it after the mainland tour, due to the road conditions). It is certainly worth the trip (it is adventure at the top).

Languages: French is the official language of New Caledonia but the mixed cultural heritage of the country includes over 23 different languages. Most of the businesses concerned with tourism have staff speaking English and often Japanese.
Local Currency: The local currency is the French Pacific Franc (CFP or XFP). The exchange rate is determinate in relation to the Euro; – 1,000 CFP is 8,38 Euros – 1 Euro = 119,25 CFP.

Climate: The climate in New Caledonia is often described as ”eternal springtime”. But in the summer – from December to May – the average temperature varies between 27°C and 30°C. At night the temperature generally drops less than 5°C so a tee-shirt or a shirt is all you need to wear. From June to November the days are cool and the nights can be chilly – so bring a sweater or jacket, especially if you plan to go a boat or trekking.


The cosmopolitan capital of New Caledonia is a large peninsula named Nouméa. The city which is just over 150 years old, is both dynamic & peaceful; – Despite its 100,000 inhabitants and ongoing rapid expansion, Nouméa has lost nothing of his charm and has managed to develop many unique attractions.
These included a downtown area which was designed in the 19th century, increasingly well-preserved colonial houses in the first residential areas to be built, the vestiges of the military which can be seen in several areas and the beautiful sheltered bays bathed in sunshine.

Things to discover
A tour of Nouméa’s Bays:
* “La Baie de la Mosselle” and the famous market. The colorful market is open daily from 5:00 AM to 11:00 PM (Closed the 3rd Monday of the month) Mosselle Bay shelters a large modern marina which is the departure point for boat excursions, including trips to “Amédé Lighthouse”, Ïlot Maître and many other islands paradises.
* “La Baie de l’Orphelinat” Named in memory of the orphans of Empress Eugénie who were sent to New Caledonia to be brides for the first settlers. Orphelinat Bay has a special centenary monument in the form of an anchor, which was erected in 1953 to celebrate a century of French presence in New Caledonia.
* “La Baie des Citrons”
Generally a very sheltered bay, this is an extremely family-friendly bay with a lovely beach, cafés, restaurants & nightclubs.
* “L’Anse Vata” A mecca for tourists and home for a wide variety of water sports, Anse Vata is also a pleasant place to go for a walk under the coconut palms. Here you will find hotels, businesses, restaurants & nightclubs, as well as the Tourist Office.
* “La Baie du Kuendu” Just 10 minutes from downtown, Nouméa lays Kuendu Bay, which is popular for its white sand beach, the water side, the activities organized by the resort of the same name and the remains of Fort Tereka.
* “La Baie de Sainte-Marie” The well-developed Pierre Vernier Promenade is a pleasant place for a wide variety of leisure activities and relaxation. Popular meeting point for walkers, runners & bike rides in the shade of the coconut palms.

Sunset on Nouméa Bay

* Tjibaou Cultural Centre
Designed by Renzo Piano in 1998, built on the Tina Peninsula 10 minutes from downtown. Dedicated to Jean-Marie Tjibaou who died in 1989 while leading the fight for his country’s autonomy from the French government, it is devoted to the cultural origins and search for identity of the native Kanak people of New Caledonia and the South Pacific.
In the native tongue of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, pije language, it is also known as Ngan Jila – meaning cultural center. The Center itself is similar to that of the villages in which the Kanak tribes live; a series of huts (or case in French) which distinguish the different functions and hierarchies of the tribes (les tribus) and a central alley along which the huts are dispersed.
The ‘Great Houses’ are linked by a long, gently curving enclosed walkway, reminiscent of the ceremonial alley of the traditional Kanak village.

* Other Cultural Centers
The Museum of New Caledonia
The Nouméa Municipal Museum
The Maritime History Museum
The Geological Museum

* Places of interest
“La Place des Cocotiers”
Coconut Square is a popular stomping ground for Noumea’s
Locals. The beautiful green area is a long rectangle formed by
4 squares: La Place Feillet, la place Courbet, la place de la Marne & Olry Square.
* “Mount Ouen Toro”
At the far southern end of the town, Mount Ouen Toro (129 m in altitude) is an exceptional site. From its summit you can see a magnificent panorama including the whole city of Nouméa.
* “The Michel-Corbasson – Zoological & Forest Park”
* “L’Aquarium des Lagons”
* “L’Ile aux Canards” (Duck Island) and his underwater path Easy accessible by taxi boat from Anse Vata beach
* “Le Phare Amédée” (Lighthouse)
After a 45 minute crossing departing from Port Mosselle, you reach an idyllic island of coconut palms, bouraos & filaos bordered by a beautiful white sand beach.
A 150 year-old – 56- meter lighthouse dating from the Second Empire stands proudly dominating the island.

* The Saint-Joseph Cathedral
A stunning gothic cathedral in the tropics. Its construction, undertaken in 1887, required ten years of hard labour & necessitated the efforts of ”convicts” and all of the trades people living in Nouméa at the time. The cathedral, made of local stone and wood, has two square towers which are 25 meters in height overlooking the city of Nouméa.
* The Hagen Château
Situated in the heart of the “Vallée-des-Colons” you will discover the jewel in the crown of colonial homes – a majestic family mansion that belonged to one of the great New Caledonian families. The Hagen Château was purchased by the Southern Province in 1998, and it is open to the public for temporary exhibitions only.
* The Bernheim Library
Opened in 1905, it has more than 90,000 volumes including many important works on New Caledonia and the Pacific Islands.
* Convicts’ Penitentiary
Located in Nouville, with the history of the prison including the Chapel, the Bakery Museum and cells remains, see Tourist Office.

On the road…
In New Caledonia, I think the most interesting thing to do is rent a car (“Better be a 4WD”) and take the road around the mainland. Roads are not easy (especially on the East Coast & the ones crossing the mainland).
Don’t be in a hurry and take your time. The distance between villages can be short (in km.), but your drive will take much longer than in your country; (Ex: 300 km. can take a minimum of 4h30 Hours). So, be alert, keep your gas tank always at half tank minimum, avoid driving by night and don’t visit Kanak villages without the permission from the village chef.
My suggestion for an adventure trip is to depart from Nouméa by the North-West, take the RT1 in direction of Paita, Boulouparis, La Foa and Bourail.
In Bourail visit the rock by the sea, the “Bohomme de Bourail”, after continue North always on the RT1 to Poya, Pouembout, Koné et Voh.
In Voh visit the “ Le Cœur de Voh” (A huge and natural heart shape located in the mangrove forest of Voh).
From Voh, go back to Koné & take the RPN2 (Cross mainland road) to Tiwaka & Wagap on the East Coast and the RPN3 South to Poindimié.
In Poindimié you will find a nice Motel (for New Caledonia standards); “The Tiéti Tera” This new 3-Star resort is set in 2.7 hectares of woodland and right on the beach. It offers 3 types of accommodation, including ten ocean suites on the sea front, spacious and equipped with luxury amenities, twenty luxury, tropical bungalow-style rooms and twenty standard, garden-facing rooms.
The Tiéti Tera Beach Resort is located on the biggest and most beautiful beach on the East Coast of New Caledonia, next to the village of Poindimié.
The Tribes from the 3 Valleys and the People of the Sea, as they are known, are the guardians of an ancestral culture and a life rich in emotions and sensations. With the exception of the village of Poindimié, the only commercial area on the East Coast, the surrounding communities live according to nature, abiding by the teachings of the Elders.
Of course this is the place to stay for two nights & visit the wild North East road to Hienghène & Pouébo.

Tiéti Tera Beach Resort
Route RPN3
16 Voie Urbaine N°1
98822 Poindimié
Nouvelle Calédonie
Tel : (+687) 42 64 00
Fax : (+687) 42 64 01
Email :

Next day take the RPN3 North to Hienghène to visit the wild scenic coast road and see the Hienghène Bay view point on to the rocks of “the hen” (la poule) and “the sphinx”.

The Hen Rock at Hienghène Bay

After the nice views of the Hienghène bay, continue North to the village of Ouaième, where the National Road RPN3 is cut by a river bordering the top mountain of New Caledonia; “The Mount Panié” (1628 m.), where the “local legend“ says that: no bridge will be built on the river to block the passage of the spirits from the Mount Panié to the sea.

Ouaième River

In consequence a “barge” – “Le Bac de la Ouaième”, was built, running 365 days a year, on 24h/24h, free passage of course.

Le Bac de la Ouaième

After crossing the river, the road is not in very good conditions but is interesting to continue North the RPN3 to Pouébo for around 60 km.
After this North East tour, go back to Poindimié on the same day to take a rest. On the next morning again take the RPN3 to the South to visit the villages of: Ponérihouen, Houaïlou, Kouaoua (Lives off the mines, its mineral conveyor is unique in the world as it is 12 Km. long and can also turn corners) & Canala, and do you have two possibilities to go back to Nouméa by the mainland cross-roads, the RT3 from Houaîlou to Bourail or the RP5 from Kohto, Farino et La Foa.  It is advisable to avoid the cross-road RP4 from Thio to Boulouparis. And from La Foa or Boulouparis take the RT1 back to Nouméa.

Another interesting road trip, is the visit to the deep South to Yaté. Leave Nouméa by the RP1 South to La Coulée and continue by the RP3 to Yaté, where you can visit “The Blue River Provincial Park”, “The Madeleine Waterfalls & botanical pathway”, “Goro Waterfall”, “Japanese mine ruins (Goro)” & “The Yaté dam”. In Yaté you will also find “The Kanua Tera Ecolodge”, a nice place to have lunch or stay for the night.

Kanua Tera Ecolodge
Baie de Port Boisé
Route Kaa Nua
B.P. 110
98834 Yaté
Nouvelle Calédonie
Tel : (+687) 46 90 00
Fax : (+687) 46 91 22
Email :

Kanua Tera Ecolodge

Baie de Port Boisé

From Yaté, go back to Nouméa by a secondary road via Goro and the second largest nickel processing plant in New Caledonia.

Nickel Processing Plant

The Islands

The Isle of Pines (Ile des Pins) – “A taste of paradise”
New Caledonia is an archipelago of fantasy islands scattered like beautiful gems in a sparkling sea and the Isle of Pines is the ‘Jewel of the Pacific’.
Ile des Pins is just a short 20 minute flight or 2.5 hour fast cat trip from Nouméa with a landscape and culture that makes it totally unique. In fact, it was named by Captain Cook after he saw the majestic and distinctive columnar pine trees.

The island is around 18 km long and 14 km wide, with 60 km of coastline and surrounded by its own extensive reef system. It is world renowned for its unspoilt beauty and truly carefree lifestyle. Sparkling crystal clear water and glorious fine white sandy beaches under swaying palms can be found all over the island, including Oro Bay which has been described as one of the world’s best undiscovered beaches by the American travel journal ‘Islands’. The Isle of Pines is very accommodating, with a range of resorts and hotels to choose from to suit all budgets, and an excellent menu of restaurants to suit all tastes.
There is also so much to see and do. Apart from the obvious selection of water-based activities, the island has many hidden treasures that should not be missed. A few days on the Isle of Pines are something you will never forget.
This island paradise was discovered by Captain Cook on his epic voyage in 1774, and European influence began with the arrival of missionaries during the 1840s, as well as traders in search of precious sandal wood. In 1872, a penal colony was established on the Isle of Pines and the ruins of the colony are worth a visit.

Among the best hotels on the island:

Ouré Tera – Beach Resort
Baie de Kanumera
98832VAO – Ile des Pins
Nouvelle Calédonie
Tel: (687)431315 –
Fax: (687) 431344

Le Meridien Ile des Pins
Baie d’ Oro
BP 175
98832 – Ile des Pins
Nouvelle Calédonie
Tel : (687) 265000
Fax: (687) 265100

Loyalty Islands – Iles Loyauté

Maré, Lifou and Ouvéa are a 40 minute flight from Nouméa, and there are several flights each day on Air Calédonie. The Betico motorized catamaran also runs services from Nouméa to Lifou, Maré and Ouvéa several times a week.

Lifou – The island of many faces Originally known as Drehu, Lifou is the largest of the Loyalty Islands, being 1,150 km2 (larger than Martinique or Tahiti) and the most populated. Lifou was discovered by the French man Dumont d’Urville. He was quickly followed by dozens of Catholic and Protestant missionaries.

Ouvéa – The closest island to paradise This island is a dream destination with its magnificent clear blue sea, white sand beaches and its green parrots which are unique in the world. The west coast of the island boasts the largest beach in the Loyalty Islands: 25 km of uninterrupted white sand surrounded by an emerald lagoon.

Maré – It speaks to your heart Maré Island or Nengoné, with its cliffs high above the waves below, seems to be the most secret of the Loyalty Islands. Divided into 8 districts, the island has a wild beauty: decidedly jagged basalt rocks (remains of the first volcanic activity), somber forests and long beach’s bordered with coconut palms. Its central plain is scattered with grottos and natural pools where fish and turtles swim.

For more information about the islands :

Nouméa Hotels

By experience, the best and most convenient hotel in Nouméa:
La Promenade Hotel Nouméa – Best Western Premier – 4stars
The newest hotel in Anse Vata, Nouméa, New Caledonia is a Best Western Premier Hotel located right in the middle of Anse Vata beach. All of the apartments have a panoramic view of the lagoon from their large balconies.

Best Western Premier la Promenade****
109 Promenade Laroque
BP 8142
98807 Nouméa
New Caledonia
Tel. : (+687) 24 46 00
Fax : (+687) 24 47 00
Mail :

Other Hotels in Nouméa

Le Lagon Hotel
Ramada Plaza Noumea
Le Pacifique
Nouvata Parc Hotel
Le Meridien Noumea
Best Western Hotel Le Paris
Le Surf Hotel
Le Parc
L’Escapade Island Resort

The Gourmet Corner

Well, there is no Gourmet Corner in New Caledonia, but you cannot leave New Caledonia without tasting a “bougna”, the traditional Melanesian dish, and it’s definitely worth a try.
Bougna is a combination of chicken, lobster or fish with yams, bananas, sweet potatoes and coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves. The food is then steamed in an earth oven heated by hot stones. Bougna is served with a variety of other dishes, including seafood, coconut milk and tropical fruit.
It is difficult to find ”the real way”, but you can find it in some restaurants cooked in a casserole.
Another interesting speciality dish is Civet de Rousette or bat stew, a favourite with the locals. Other delicacies include small mangrove oysters (huitres de paletuviers) and a pastry filled with seafood and cream sauce (vol-au-vent des fruits de mer).
Among the Best restaurants in Nouméa I will mention:

La Coupole Restaurant Gastronomique
Noumea’s most famous gourmet French restaurant, located on Anse Vata near the Aquarium – Rocher à la voile

Reservations: (+687) 26 44 11
Serving Times: 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM >< 7:00 PM- 10:00 PM – Mon-Fri., 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM on Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Nightlife: Anse Vata and Baie des Citrons share Nouméa’s favourite night-spots. You will find bars and restaurants on the hotel grounds and many more plus discos and two world class casinos within a short walk down the sea-side promenade.

The Flag

Up to 2010 the only flag in official use in New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France, was the French tricolor. However, with the official adoption of the Kanak flag alongside the French tricolor in July 2010, New Caledonia has become one of the few countries or territories in the world with two official national flags

Independence movement flag obtained official status in July 2010

La Coutume – (The Custom)

The Melanesian or Kanak culture, is an ancestral culture of mainly oral tradition. All of the belief systems and legends are passed on by the “elders” who, in doing so, perpetuate these important traditions and customs.
The custom and the rules of politeness are still alive and well in the Bush and the islands, and necessitate some propriety.
When visiting a tribe, you are expected to “faire la coutume”, which means offer the chief a small gift as a sign of respect – a sarong, cigarettes or a bank note.
Some places can only be visited once you have requested permission from their ritual guardian.
Any paths that are barred, even symbolically, should not be used. They remain the tribe’s property and lead to sacred places.

Freddy Santamaria “The Smooth Operator”
Paris, France — November 25, 2010
For Elektronik i Norden
Copyright © 2010— Freddy Santamaria
All rights reserved

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